Screenplay : Terri Hughes & Ron Milbauer
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1999
Stars : Devon Sawa (Anton), Seth Green (Mick), Elden Ratliff (Pnub), Jessica Alba (Molly), Christopher Hart (The Hand), Vivica A. Fox (Debi), Jack Noseworthy (Randy), Katie Wright (Tanya)
Some 12 years ago, Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn" (1987) featured a hilarious sequence in which the hero's right hand became possessed by an evil spirit, forcing him to cut off the offending appendage with a chainsaw, at which time it ran around on its own. The sequence played like a twisted variation of slapstick comedy; Roger Ebert compared it to the antics of "The Three Stooges." It was a funny scene, and it worked, mostly because it lasted only 10 minutes. In other words, Raimi knew when the joke stopped being funny, and he moved on to other things.
Now, take that short sequence, drag it out to over 100 minutes, and you have "Idle Hands," an inanely repetitive, mind-numbing horror-comedy about a stoned slacker named Anton (Devon Sawa) whose right hand is possessed by an evil spirit and forces him to kill a number of people, including his parents and his two best friends.
The movie starts out on a good, creepy note, with director Rodman Flender, a veteran of TV shows and schlock horror like "Leprechaun 2," constructing an effective cat-and-mouse game with an unseen killer in Anton's house. Then the script, by first-timer scribes Terri Hughes and Ron Milbauer, starts trying to be funny, and it all goes downhill.
Hughes and Milbauer strain for laughs by portraying Anton as the ultimate unmotivated slacker, a stoned teen who doesn't even bother to put on pants when going across the street to score some dope, which he smokes out of his asthma inhaler. Unfortunately, he's a dull slacker, and he barely registers as a character. He doesn't have anything resembling the jovial stupor of Sean Penn's Jeff Spicoli from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (1982) or the ultra-cool relaxation of Jeff Bridge's Dude from "The Big Lebowski" (1998), two of the more memorable cinematic stoners.
"Idle Hands" strains at comedy, including one painfully unfunny sequence involving local bad boy Randy (Jack Noseworthy) as he tries to pick up a sobbing teenage girl at a flower-strewn memorial for some of Anton's recently murdered victims; the joke is unfunny in and of itself, but the movie's timing (coming so close after the Columbine incident) makes it feels in especially bad taste. The movie also labors with an extended joke borrowed from "An American Werewolf in London," where Anton's two murdered buddies, Mick (Seth Green) and Pnub (Elden Ratliff), come back from the grave to help him out. Mick walks around with a broken beer bottle embedded in his scalp, and Pnub has to carry his severed head in his arms, yet they joke and cajole and sit on their butts watching MTV like nothing ever happened. Even in death, these guys have no life.
"Idle Hands" plays like a spoof; it intends to mock the horror genre, but that's exactly what it doesn't do. The movie isn't very scary because it doesn't play off primal fear the way "Halloween" (1978) did (except the opening sequence), and it's not funny because it doesn't play off the understood horror conventions like "Scream" (1996) did. Instead, it exists in its own bad universe, where jokes about "getting a piece" of a teen girl who has been sliced and diced in an air conditioning fan are supposed to pass for humor.
"Idle Hands" simply takes a bad story and unfunny jokes, and adds a lot of gory gross-out effects, including Anton's severed hand squirting blood from its fingertips while being nuked in the microwave and Pnub's severed neck oozing unidentifiable goop while he eats a burrito. It's little surprise that the movie features a brief snippet of George A. Romero's zombie classic "Dawn of the Dead" (1978) on TV—it aspires to out-gross one of the reigning champs, but without Romero's wit, intelligence, and satire.
Amazingly enough, "Idle Hands" is also exceedingly boring. For all the loud rock music and spattering guts, it feels long and unengaging. The opening sequence grabs you, but the rest of the movie slowly lets you go until you're tapping your foot in boredom, hoping for it to end. By the time Viveca A. Fox shows up as a Druid priestess who is tracking the evil force that has possessed Anton's hand, you know the movie is in the full throws of sick desperation. When it's over, you may feel like cutting off your own hand for having paid good money at the ticket counter.
©1999 James Kendrick